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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sac State's Mulitalo hopes for NFL draft-day call

By Matthew Barrows
mbarrows@sacbee.com

It has been four years since a Sacramento State football player has heard his name called on draft day, a streak Cyrus Mulitalo hopes will end the second day of the draft Sunday afternoon.

Of course, his chances would be a lot better if he were just two inches taller.

"That's the whole ding against me," said Mulitalo, an inside linebacker who was listed on the Hornets' roster at 6-foot-1 but who actually tops off around 5-11.

Mulitalo's low vantage point certainly didn't prevent him from finding the ballcarrier. He led the Hornets in tackles in each of the past three seasons and ranks second on the school's all-time tackles list with 336. Sac State coach Marshall Sperbeck also points out an NFL team would be getting two players for the price of one if it spent a sixth- or seventh-round selection on Mulitalo.

Mulitalo rushed for 1,299 yards and 25 touchdowns as a high school senior and the Hornets occasionally used him as a ballcarrier. Indeed, some NFL teams are looking at Mulitalo as a fullback.

"We did a little bit of that his junior year," Sperbeck said. "Cyrus certainly has the instincts to help out in the running game."

Height isn't necessarily a requirement for either position.

Mulitalo ran off a number of successful linebackers – London Fletcher, Zach Thomas – who didn't quite reach six feet. Another linebacker with similar pre-draft measurables is Seattle Seahawks inside linebacker Lofa Tatupu, who was drafted in the second round in 2005 and who has been to three Pro Bowls.

Like Mulitalo, Tatupu is a shade under six feet and ran his 40-yard dash in 4.8 seconds, a ho-hum time for a linebacker. The two spoke on the phone a few months ago, a conversation that encouraged Mulitalo to believe he could succeed at the next level.

"He wasn't the tallest guy or the strongest guy, but he plays his heart out every time he's on the field," Mulitalo said. "That's the way I play. I can play ball – that's one thing I can do."

No Sac State player has been drafted since 2004 when offensive lineman Marko Cakva was selected in the sixth round by the New York Jets.

For NFL teams, the Big Sky Conference's caliber of competition is as much of a deterrent as Mulitalo's height. Mulitalo trained all winter for his pro day workout, but only two teams – the 49ers and Giants – showed up to watch him.

Mulitalo said he just wants a chance in training camp, even if it's as an undrafted free agent. He noted other Big Sky products – Portland State linebacker Andy Schantz and Weber State fullback Marcus Mailei – are expected to be drafted.

Mulitalo said he felt he compared well to those players over the past few years.

Mike Gough also said Mulitalo fit in just fine with other NFL prospects.

Gough runs Athletic Edge Sports in Bradenton, Fla., an outfit that specializes in preparing college players for the 40-yard dashes and broad jumps they'll have to perform for NFL scouts.

Mulitalo arrived Jan. 5 with several other college standouts such as Virginia tackle Eugene Monroe, a likely top-five selection Saturday. Gough said Mulitalo worked as hard as anyone.

"He lost probably 25 pounds or so with me," he said. "He really transformed his body into one built for speed and quickness. He really lost a lot of fat and gained a lot of muscle."

Mulitalo, who now weighs in the low 230-pound range, agrees the transformation wasn't an easy one but that now he's in the best shape of his life.

"The first day working out, I actually threw up," he recalled. "I give credit to the guys working us out. Because I've been through some tough workouts, but I've never thrown up."

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